The Australian International Documentary Conference celebrated a record-breaking edition after holding its first expanded in-person event after two previous hybrid and virtual outings.

Held at Melbourne’s Australia Centre for the Moving Image on March 5- 8, the lively four-day conference of industry panels, screenings and networking events was followed by a three-day online international marketplace (March 9 – 11) that drew 820 documentary and factual industry delegates. The numbers were the highest in 20 years and the most attendees since the event relocated to Melbourne in 2016.

The third annual awards were also announced on March 8 with the top prize for best documentary feature going to “Wash My Soul in the River’s Flow,” director Philippa Bateman’s portrait of musician and activists Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter.

The award for best documentary/factual series was won by Blackfella Films’ “The Australian Wars,” a three-part series, commissioned by SBS, that illuminates and questions Australia’s dark colonial past. The prize for best documentary in the factual single category was won by Tamarind Tree Pictures and ABC’s “Still We Rise.”

With the overall theme of “Agents of Change,” 715 delegates in-person and 105 online participants from 21 countries attended. These included 147 local and international speakers in a conference program of 52 sessions, pitches, workshops and screenings, and a record 617 curated meetings.

Headliners, Oscar winner Daniel Roher (“Navalny”) and Oscar nominee Sara Dosa (“Fire of Love”) had originally planned to attend in-person, but appeared on zoom as their Oscar commitments prevented travel. In-person industry attendees included representatives from Hot Docs, TVF International, ARTE (France), Al Jazeera (English), Dogwoof, BBC Storyville, Naked Television, ABC (Australia), Paramount Plus, Stan and SBS.

“It’s easy to find stories outside the U.S. if you show up at the Toronto Film Festival, but what about the stores that are not as easy to get,” said Erika Dilday, executive producer at American Documentary and POV. “It was great to see the diversity of stories that were on offer.”

In addition to the value of deals struck, the event also unlocked some A$350,000 ($234,000) of project development finance, prizes, awards and development opportunities. Funding partners included Screen Australia, Shark Island Foundation, DocPlay and The Post Lounge. Awards partnerships included AFTRS, Deakin Motion Lab, Artisan Post Group and Film Finances.

“We have room to grow to increase our international presence and that creates greater opportunities for Australian documentary makers to find global buyers and audiences,” said Natasha Gadd, CEO and AIDC creative director.